As August draws to a close here at City Winery, word is arriving that our fall crop is going to be extraordinary this year. The growing season in California has been nearly ideal so we are expecting to have our fermenters filled to capacity in the next few weeks. Crushing up to one hundred tons of grapes takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears so we reach out to many of our staff, members and friends to pitch in. In other words: ALL HANDS ON DECK!
The work itself is quite exhilarating for those who appreciate the art of winemaking. Seeing the freshly picked grapes as they arrive opens a new window into the enjoyment of wine. Suddenly you make a direct connection between these luscious, aromatic fruit and the flavors that make wine such a distinct and delightful experience. Tasting a Pinot Noir grape and comparing that to a fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grape immediately reveals the source of their differences. The Pinot Noir’s bracing acidity and crispness contrasts with the thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is rich and chewy.
But the real miracle is to witness the transformation from juice to wine. The combination of crushed grapes and juice, known as the must, begins it’s metamorphosis as a beautifully sweet and intensely flavored mixture. As the yeasts begin their work, the sugars are replaced with a complex variety of compounds that add a wide range of new tastes and aromas. Gradually the must becomes more wine-like over the roughly two-week fermentation process. During this period, the must is tasted and analyzed twice a day in our lab. Adjustments are made in order to insure the best possible outcome.
The preparations for the crush are moving into high gear. The fermenters need to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, as do all the conveyors, destemming machine and sorting tables. Pumps, hoses and fittings are being put in order for managing the must. New barrels are being acquired and must be tested for leaks and other imperfections. Existing barrels are undergoing a thorough inspection, then washed and set in racks for receiving new wine. Our basket press will be taken out of storage and similarly prepped. Once a crush begins, there are no timeouts, so everything must be in near perfect working order. In the event of an equipment failure, we review our backup procedures. As they say, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the order of the day.
The winery is a hub of great activity and anticipation as we strive to improve every aspect of vinification each harvest. David Lecomte, our head winemaker, is never satisfied with just maintaining the status quo, no matter how diligent. We have been upgrading and intensifying our laboratory analyses with new staff and protocols. This will allow David to prevent or more quickly correct any must issues before they cause a wine fault. A week ago we received a new bottling machine that will allow us to substantially increase our capacity. This is important for the harvest because it will free up barrels and rack space as the aged wine can be put into bottles more quickly.
September marks a new beginning for City Winery with its sister facility in Chicago now open and ready for its first harvest. Together we watch the ripening grapes in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere with renewed excitement. With our combined knowledge and experience, this fall offers us an opportunity to make the best City Winery vintage yet.